Maximizing the Instructional Potential of Activities and Materials

Creative activities and authentic material strengthen a language lesson, but preparing the activities and finding the material can be time-consuming. Here are two suggestions for conserving time and energy:

  • A creative activity can remain fresh by changing the subject matter. You don’t have to feel pressured to come up with new activities every week. In fact, it helps the students become better learners if they have the chance to gain familiarity with the tasks required by one particular activity. Recycle a few of your favorite activities throughout the school year. I’d argue that by doing the same activity more than once (without overkill) students have the chance to develop their own strategies for completing that specific set of tasks. For example, the first time they must write a plot description for a movie sequel, they may need more time to organize their thoughts. The second time they do this activity (with a different film or by targeting a different grammar structure) they may have a strategy in place: First, come up with a title. Second, decide who will be in the sequel. Third, write a few sentences about what each person is going to do in the sequel. Fourth, go back and see if the targeted language structure was used and used correctly.


  • Authentic material can be reused.  When you hunt for authentic material, it can take time to find something interesting and appropriate. This is especially true when you use film. First, you have to narrow your choice down to one film that you know, has subject matter with broad appeal, and provides the speech models you feel are suitable. Then you have to select the scene(s) that is most compatible with your lesson. (You may also lose time like I do getting lost in a movie and forgetting that I need to watch as a language teacher!) So after all the work of finding a scene and possibly spending further time locating the script online, why let all that effort go to waste by using the material only one time? You can use a selected scene for more than one lesson. This not only saves you time and energy, but the students also have the chance to strengthen their comprehension of that scene. For example, I recently recommended a clip from Dead Poet’s Society to practice modals. The emotional conversation between a father and a son provides enough content to illustrate and practice how modals can be used to express necessity. For another lesson, the same scene offers a few phrasal verbs in context: talk back, get away with it, let me down, count on me, and others.  In a third lesson, you could also combine online materials. I have a video on expressions related to bulls as well as a follow-up exercise. You could use the same scene from Dead Poet’s Society to stimulate students’ original use of the targeted expressions, which include bullheaded and take the bull by the horns.

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